Recast antique Sheffield Pewter
New and ongoing work, produced during the Covid-19 lockdown April-May 2020, based on contemporary/ancient apotropaic markings, and varying in size and precision, as well as technique and style.
Beech and pine chopping boards, Welsh birch logs and some axe-split contorted willow from next door’s tree, are chisel-carved as an exercise in mould-making and using only what was to hand.
The hashtag or crosshatch represents a form simple enough to offer endless variation, whilst still being graphically defined as having a strict format, and is old as humanity, having been identified as one of the most commonly occurring signs in cave painting across the globe, and has had many names, uses and iterations since.
They were described by a friend as an imagining of rave fliers that might emerge in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, which accounts for the title, alluding to a cataclysmic global event as much as a big night out.
Doing this every once in a while has helped me ‘keep my hand in’ with concentrating on a small thing, whilst other ways of thinking and doing are less accessible. It’s also helped me make things a little less complicated and exacting than I might ordinarily default to as a way of making/avoiding making, as well as trying not to spend all day, everyday online.
I was thinking about lead mortuary crosses a lot. I’m not much for faith myself, but making these felt like a reasonable successor; something tactile, made and to make, to hold on to for some sort of transformative, productive, protective activity. It felt early on that, as much of the world stopped holding, touching and speaking in person, we were all looking immediately to online networks and intersections for communication, delivery and deliverance.
In breaking down, melting, pouring and crystallizing, it’s not just the metal that changes form; the moulds themselves degrade and burn a little with every use. Each pour only stays hot enough to flow for seconds; sometimes the accuracy wobbles, bringing about some flashing and overflow, making each cast unique.
They're pictured ‘upside down’, for the impression of the carved moulds. This is quite standard in open mould casting - the ‘upper’ face is often featureless or a bit gloopy, as in the last image, and I enjoyed learning that it doesn’t matter which way they’re italicised, carved or drawn: flip them, tilt them through 90° and they’re mirrored. They remind me as much of Billy and Charley’s forgeries as cheap band logo necklaces I wore as a teenager.
Lead’s easy enough to come by, but I had a stockpile of old pewter pots. I’ve no furnace in my garden (yet..) but white metals work fine with a blowtorch or stovetop. Most of these are melted and poured individually in an old saucepan, the early ones heated in a tin can (asda chopped toms) on a little campfire. The large ones are roughly equivalent to one whole jug.
The pewter is mostly old or low-grade, and has some lead in it as a result - it’s only relatively recently it’s any ‘safer’ than it was in the bronze age. It was odd to have an extra reason for wearing masks and washing hands at a time when I was too anxious to leave the house. I actually made most of these a couple of weeks ago, but I’m looking forward to making more.
Further casts have since been made using a two-part relief mould, as shown in the last images, and again, still under lockdown conditions. Here’s some documentation of the process and thinking.